The two best things coming out of the victory over Denver are the avoidance of serious injuries and the individual progressions of several of the team’s young players.
Aaron Rodgers mentioned that, while not making excuses, the Pack has played three good defenses to start the season. This is true, as the Bears rank fourth in yards yielded per game, and third in points yielded (both pending Monday night’s game). Denver’s defense is tenth in yardage, and the Vikings are a respectable thirteenth.
The Eagles, meanwhile, rank 17th in yards yielded per game and 24th in points allowed. The Packers have allowed an average of 11.7 points, versus the Eagles’ 26 – a considerable margin, and one that should make the Packers a solid favorite on Thursday.
The most critical present roster concern is the receiving corps. That’s why the effort turned in by Marquez Valdes-Scantling is notable. He turned in his best overall game as a pro, with five catches for 99 yards and a touchdown. It seems no defensive back can keep up with him when he goes deep.
Another guy who registered his nearly best-ever pro game was Jamaal Williams. With Aaron Jones suffering his worst-ever stats, Jamaal stepped up with 12 carries for 59 years. He broke more tackles than I’ve ever seen before, and he justified the confidence that coach LaFleur had in calling his number. Jamaal had 113 yards, in 21 carries against Tampa Bay in his rookie year, though I hadn’t recalled that performance.
I don’t have any rankings of guard Elgton Jenkins, but he played every offensive snap, and Rodgers was not sacked and only hit the ground one time all game – so the prized rookie must have had a successful debut. For the same reason it also appears that the team’s new right guard, Billy Turner, is proving to be a fine pass protector.
Two other offensive spot players are worth a mention. It was great to see popular Danny Vitale get himself into the stats, with a 27-yard reception that was nearly a touchdown. On the downside, Geronimo Allison, who we thought had earned Rodgers’ trust during the preseason, has only seen seven balls come his way; he’s caught five, but they only added up to 24 yards, and his sole catch on Sunday was for negative yardage.
Also on the downside, Jake Kumerow is nursing a shoulder injury and was inactive on Sunday. For a guy who has had so little time on the field in his pro career, his injury history is disturbing.
Passing Production Possibilities
Where is Green Bay’s pass production going to come from, other than from Davante? Based on what others are doing, this team needs, first, to pick up the tight end production. The league’s top five most productive TEs have from 221 to 284 yards of production after three games, and each has caught at least 16 passes. The man at the top is the Chiefs’ Travis Kelce, with 17 catches for 284 yards.
The Packers’ TE duties have been shared by Jimmy Graham, Marcedes Lewis, and Bob Tonyan, who’ve produced 30, 33, and 32 yards respectively. That’s less than 100 total yards accumulated by the group. My feeling is that this trio is at least of average as to their receiving capabilities.
It seems the Packers simply don’t fully involve their TEs as receivers – McCarthy didn’t do it, and LaFleur hasn’t either. That’s not the only problem, however. On Sunday, Rodgers twice threw over the head of an open Bob Tonyan in the game’s first ten minutes – one should have been a 43-yard touchdown throw. Tonyan has been doing his job, but it takes two to complete a pass.
Other than for Jimmy Graham, I don’t know that Rodgers lacks trust in his tight ends, but the fact remains he’s only targeted them 16 times, and only half of those have resulted in completions. Unless Graham has a productive game against Philadelphia, that could be his final game as a Green Bay starter. Yes, it’s time to panic.
The receiving yardage by the Pack’s running backs isn’t much better. Jamaal Williams has been targeted eight times and caught seven for 55 yards; Aaron Jones has also been targeted eight times and caught six, but for only 38 yards. These would be fine single-game numbers, but lousy totals three weeks into the season.
In comparison, the five most productive RBs in the league have accounted for from 12 to 20 catches, for from 115 to just over 200 yards. They include big names Alvin Kamara (NO), Christian McCaffrey (CAR) and Le‘Veon Bell (NYJ), though the name at the top is the Chargers’ Austin Ekeler, who’s caught 19 for 208 yards.
Both Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams are fine pass catchers. Running backs don’t really need to be great route runners – they mostly just drift out into empty space. The Packers need to work harder on setting up their screens and sneaking their backs downfield.
You don’t have to look further than to Denver, who got the annoying little runner Phillip Lindsay open for four of five catches for 49 yards. For the most part, running back receiving success is due to good timing, adept faking, and creative play calling, as opposed to great individual ability.
The Packers have the personnel to produce another 40 or 50 yards a game from their running backs – they just need to nail down their timing and execution – and then call more pass plays to the running backs. I’d lay some of the blame here on offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett.
Green Bay faces Dallas in Week 5, Kansas City in Week 8, and the 49ers in Week 10 – all are on the road, and the Packers can’t be expected to win any of them if their passing game doesn’t steadily and quickly improve.
It’s great that the Packers are at +6 in turnovers – which largely explains the Packers’ perfect record. It would be foolish, however, to think this pattern will hold up game after game.
In addition to these games, the other games shaping up as the next most difficult are the pair against the Lions, in Weeks 7 and 16. Detroit, who escaped from Philadelphia on Sunday with a 27-24 win, now stands at 2-0-1.
It’s early, but it doesn’t appear that either the Bears’ Mitchell Trubisky or the Vikings’ Kirk Cousins are plaing well enough to win the division. Currently, the best quarterback in the NFC North is the Lions’ Matthew Stafford; his passer rating of 97.5 is one point ahead of Aaron’s.